Biggest Concerns the Minnesota Vikings Still Must Address After 2013 NFL Draft
The team selected defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes with the 23rd and 25th pick, respectively. Both were top positions of need and filled major holes for the defense.
The offense then received a major upgrade after general manager Rick Spielman decided to trade back into the first round and select wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson with the 29th pick—a selection that sent New England the Vikings' second, third, fourth and seventh-round picks.
Although this forced Minnesota to sit out Day 2 of the draft, few teams can compare its first three players selected against the Vikings' first-round haul.
Day 3 included six total selections, addressing linebacker (Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti), offensive guard (Jeff Baca and Travis Bond) and defensive tackle (Everett Dawkins).
Oh, and the Vikings selected the first punter of the draft in the fifth round—Jeff Locke out of UCLA.
So where does that leave the team heading into 2013?
Last season saw the biggest turnaround in team history with a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance.
Let's take a look at the top areas of concern still plaguing the Vikings after the NFL draft.
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Leading up to the NFL draft, it appeared likely the Vikings would use one of its two first-round selections to fill the void left by former middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency.
Potential draft selections at the position included Alec Ogletree and Manti Te'o, who were both available through all three of the team's first-round selections. Ogletree was eventually selected 30th by the St. Louis Rams and Te'o was selected 38th by the San Diego Chargers.
And if the Vikings chose not to trade its second-round selection (52nd overall) to the New England Patriots, Rick Spielman could have selected linebacker Arthur Brown, who went No. 56 to the Baltimore Ravens, a team also looking to address the middle of its defense following the retirement of Ray Lewis.
Instead, Minnesota drafted Gerald Hodges, who is best suited on the outside and Michael Mauti, a seventh-round selection who will likely not take the field this year.
Mauti has torn his ACL three times over the last five years and continues to rehab the latest injury.
As a result, the Vikings appear ready to hand the reigns over to Erin Henderson, the team's weak-side linebacker who recently signed a two-year, $4 million contract.
According to Ben Goessling, Henderson has added eight or nine pounds since last season and is ready to make the move.
Henderson met with reporters at Winter Park following strength and conditioning workouts:
"I’m excited for the opportunity, man. My time here has been spent playing the will linebacker. But I got a taste of that mike and what it’s about when I’ve had the chance to play in those nickel situations. I look forward to the challenge. It’s something new for me to learn, something new for me to put my brain to and help me refocus a little bit with the kind of work and time I have to put in in order for us to be successful."
If Henderson can make the move successfully, he would follow in his brother E.J.'s footsteps, who made the Pro Bowl in 2011.
However, this remains one of biggest concerns for the Vikings and a major need for improvement over last year. The draft was certainly full of middle linebacker prospects and Minnesota decided to take Patterson over the defensive upgrade.
Only time will tell if this was the best move for the team.
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The Vikings landed one of the top wide receivers available in free agency with Greg Jennings. I recently provided an in-depth look at how Jennings will make Christian Ponder a better quarterback.
With the selection of Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings have a player who can develop into a legitimate No. 2 wide receiver across from Jennings, and a potential No. 1 receiver for the future.
But, the selection of Patterson does not immediately take the spotlight off the position. The former junior from Tennessee will have a significant learning curve entering the NFL.
While Patterson's talent is inarguable, he also recognizes his own areas of opportunity:
"My strength is when the ball is in my hands. Whether it be on a kick return, on an end around. I feel like when the ball is in my hands, I’m a special player. I’m still working on my route running, learning coverages and stuff."
Patterson comes into a perfect situation in terms of a mentor in Jennings, who may be one of the top route-runners over the last several years. If Patterson can blend his raw talent with the precise nuances of the NFL passing game, he may be one of the top receivers in this year's draft and those to come.
Cris Carter's son, Duron, also looks to join the Vikings with an invitation for a tryout during rookie minicamp this Friday. Such a move would inevitably push the elder Carter to take a more active role with the team and potentially provide some additional tips to a relatively young receiving corps.
Minnesota also signed three undrafted free agents at wide receiver, among a total of 16 players.
However, a projected roster of Jennings, Patterson and Jarius Wright still presents more questions than immediate answers. Throwing Jerome Simpson and Stephen Burton into the conversation doesn't really help with the uneasiness outside of Jennings.
Rick Spielman has definitely made the attempt to provide weapons for his third-year quarterback.
Now it's just a matter of whether there will be mutual development between Ponder and his receivers.
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With the selection of Xavier Rhodes out of Florida State in the first round of the draft, Minnesota appears to have secured a starting outside cornerback opposite of Chris Cook.
That still leaves questions whether the teams' remaining assortment of talent fits the bill for the Tampa 2 defensive scheme behind Cook and Rhodes and which players fit best in the slot for other formations.
The Vikings recently signed cornerback Jacob Lacey to most likely compete for the nickel and dime-package position. The undrafted free agent started his career with the Indianapolis Colts and was with the Detroit Lions last year.
The Vikings selected Josh Robinson last year in the third round of the draft and recently signed restricted free agent A.J. Jefferson to his one year tender. Both players should be in the mix of the rotation, but certainly leave a lot to be desired with the departure of Antoine Winfield.
Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels will compete for a roster spot, but it seems unlikely both would make the team heading into the 2013 season.
It was surprising to see the Vikings only select one cornerback—in Rhodes—during the draft and ignore the position with its undrafted free-agent signings. Considering the Jeff Locke pick in the fifth round, Rick Spielman could have instead selected cornerback Micah Hyde out of Iowa to come in and compete.
Jordan Poyer obviously wasn't on the Vikings' radar as the former senior out of Oregon State fell to the seventh round and 218th overall.
In the end, Minnesota has a strong outside presence with Cook and Rhodes, with uncertainty in the slot.
It will be interesting to see how the roster takes shape, as the Vikings' secondary hopes to improve from its 2012 performance that ranked 24th in passing yards.
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